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The meeting opened with residents reviewing the goals already identified.

Green Space, Technology Priorities for North Adams Master Plan

By Andy McKeever
iBerkshires Staff
10:01AM / Thursday, November 15, 2012
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The attendees broke into three small groups to discuss the future of the city.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Sprucing up the city's appearance and creating a technological presence were two major themes that came out of the newest session of master planning for North Adams.

Led by Berkshire Regional Planning Commission's Amy Kacala, the city is in the process of establishing a new plan as part of the overall Sustainable Berkshires process. The public input session on Wedneday night gathered about 25 people at All Saints Church to focus on  economics and the keys toward success.

"If you don't know where you are, if you don't know where you're going, you need a map," Mayor Richard Alcombright said of the process, adding that the city has not had a master plan in more than 40 years.

The process starts with a study of the current conditions of the city — identifying anchors, potential growth sectors and current projects — and then with public input attempts to draw guidelines for officials to focus their attention.

The "comprehensive plan" will analyze all aspects of the city. After about 18 months on the job, the process has not moved to an economic focus.

"Tonight we get to take it to the next step," Kacala said to open the discussion. "We want to see some of the ideas we talk about today implemented next year."

The master plan so far is eyeing ways to transform the city from the old production-based economy to one focused on talent and innovation. The keys to that are improving the quality of life, strong leadership, sense of community and a young and talented workforce.

Compared to the rest of Berkshire County, the city has decades of "disinvestment" in properties creating a lot of blight, a high poverty rate and a lower average educational achievement. And there is a countywide "negative bias" because of those factors.

However, the city also tends to have a "hipper" feel, less urban sprawl, historic buildings, access to recreation and is in close proximity to two of the county's three four-year colleges. Those are the things the city will need to emphasis while improving upon the negatives.

For the downtown, the master plan is focusing on increasing activity by encouraging businesses to stay open later and create more housing. Officials will also be asked to provide developmental tools and incentives to help the progress of projects that contribute to those while weighing how each project relates to the rest of the vision.

"That doesn't mean if an opportunity comes along, you have to say 'you aren't in the book,'" Kacala said to emphasis that the plan is a guideline and not a strict set of laws.

With that background, three groups were formed to add to the plan. The blight aspect seemed to be the most prevalent when the groups reported. Streetscaping and more green space were top of the list for two of the groups. The third group also supported more green space with such projects as river walks, but said the city really needs to increase its technological presence.

North Adams' attractions and businesses are not on many mobile apps or easily searched so any plan should include encouraging businesses and venues to be technologically savvy, they said. That would help gain tourism with the younger generation and emphasize attractions that only area residents know about.

Some of those attending expressed concern that the small group is "of like mind" and encouraged Kacala to find ways to involve people who haven't been able to attend the sessions.

"I think you are preaching to the choir here," City Councilor Lisa Blackmer said.

Discussing the causes of low attendance numbers, participants said some people could not make it, others don't care and yet another group doesn't feel welcome — with one attendee referring to the session as "a party they were never invited to."

Alcombright said a lot of residents haven't been able to "get excited" about this type of process and referred to low attendance at Proposition 2 1/2 meetings a year ago as an example of residents taking passive roles in government. This process, he hopes, will start to bring that excitement back.

"There is still quite a sense of public apathy," Alcombright said. "This city was so shut down and repressed for a long time."

Tags: economic development,   master plan,   municipal planning,   Sustainable Berkshires,   

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